Bibliophilia (i) Book Reviews & Recommendations (A Very Different Post)
Of course, I love books, as we all do. Writers are generally bibliophiles. Non-writers too. I can’t go past a bookshop without popping in. If I don’t buy a book, I’ll take a bunch of front cover photos to remind me to get it later on. Lately, I’ve been lucky, the library near me is constantly selling piles of books for next to nothing, as so many people donated reads they bought over lockdown. Really good books too, classics, prize winners, shortlisted reads. And how cool that our lockdowns have got more people reading?
So, like you, I’ve been reading more than usual. Choice picks and old favourites (though I’ve always got a book on the go, to be honest) and I thought I’d share some of what I’ve consumed. I do have a terrible habit of reading about three books at once then flitting from one to the other. It keeps my interest in all of them ensuring I do eventually finish them. Sometimes, I even have to start a book all over again because I abandoned it too long and lost the thread. No doubt that says a lot about me.
I won’t review everything I’ve read because, well, a lot of them aren’t worth recommending, they were just okay.
I must say, I do prefer tales set in modern times and struggle with those of a bygone era, as women don’t often get to play a great role or enact deeds of derring-do. Instead, they are often supporting characters, the meek wife, witches burned at the stake, damsels won as prizes, prostitutes or bar wenches. Actually, that’s made their roles sound more interesting now and my argument seems to have failed. But you get my point. (Cue here for someone to suggest plenty of books with wonderful lead female characters set in all manner of historical periods and debunk my comment and make me look dumb. Feel free, I welcome it 🙂 For the record, yes, I’ve read Jane Eyre and yes, it was good).
Here are a few I happen to think are utterly wonderful…
The Apologist by Jay Rayner
This book is so funny, I recommend it to everyone in the world. In short, it’s about a guy, a very sour and cutting restaurant critic, who upsets someone so spectacularly with his review one day, that the ensuing repercussions of this leave him filled with remorse. He then makes great efforts to make it up to the chef’s family, which is a novel exhilarating experience for him as he’s not used to having empathy or caring about people much at all.
From this point on, he decides to repent and do penance for every hurt he has ever caused anyone. With entertaining consequences. Kind of a My Name is Earl scenario but very British. In fact, it came before that. I wonder if the writer of My Name is Earl got inspiration from this…? It also pokes fun at the snobbery of the London restaurant scene. A great read. Especially if you fancy something light. Although it deals with the idea of karma in such an intelligent way, a reminder that everything you do has consequences.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
I found this book pretty awe-inspiring despite its mixed reviews. Simply put, Cheryl Strayed tells her own true story of how, as a young woman in the mid-90s, she decided to trek the then fairly unventured Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico, where she hiked through California, Oregon, and Washington. She completes this whole trek over three months and does so with profound bravery considering she is somewhat ill-prepared for some of the mishaps along the way. Doing the trip is her solution to work through the searing grief she carries from recent events which include the loss of her mother. With no one left in the world, she feels she has nothing to lose and begins her literal and emotional journey of healing, through walking, for endless hours, for endless days, in the wilderness. We, the reader, are tortured right alongside her as she struggles to find water and has to escape hair-raising situations.
I was moved and inspired in equal measure. It’s one of the few instances I’d say I enjoyed the film just as much as the book though for different reasons. The film is a beaut mainly because it’s such an honest reflection of the book, but I always recommend reading the book first. It also captured that exquisite sense of 90s nostalgia that never fails to seduce me.
Halfway up the Mountain by Kiran Khalap
Every sentence of this book is crafted like poetry. I almost want to describe it as poetic prose rather than a novel. It’s also written entirely in the second person which makes it more compelling to read. Poets will love this book as every other line can be used as a writing prompt. And though it deals with painful themes, it’s somehow such a soothing read.
In short, it’s about a young village girl in India who has to endure and somehow overcome the unfairness of opportunity that comes with having a traditional upbringing, and being a woman in a time and culture which does not always prize women. She does what she can to resolve her predicament, through spiritually elevating herself, and through forgiveness, themes which are threaded throughout the story. You follow her journey as she overcomes her obstacles and deals with her fate, overall. Really, it’s about the power of forgiveness, the heartache of motherhood, the valuable lessons pain has to offer, and how there is beauty to be found in almost anything.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
I have just finished reading this diamond of a book. It wowed me. The author is a narrator of huge skill, her plot centring around twelve women’s individual lives powerfully, authentically told, in this moving tale about trying to navigate your racial identity when faced with so many obstacles. A much-needed voice in literature, Evaristo explores the politics of race, identity and class and takes us through each character’s path with such an informed understanding of what it means to be living in modern day Britain as a woman and specifically, as a woman of colour or mixed heritage.
She voices the black female experience, the gay black female experience, the mixed heritage transgender experience, the many ways, subtle and dark, that abuse and racism manifest, the hilarious side of dating across different generations, mixed race relationships and the fetishism of only dating a particular racial type, polyamorism and the politics of modern dating being swipe left and meet. Not to mention the politics of being a theatre-maker who can’t get a playhouse to produce your play because your work is considered too black, too real or too radical. Yet being tenacious nonetheless because like it or not, you’re an artist. It’s about how who you are is partly made up of how you’re seen by others and how you respond to those stereotypes or prejudices, how you deal with the cards you’ve been given.
Evaristo is witty, sharp, eye-opening and heart-wrenching. I was impressed not only with the depth and familiarity I experienced with each story but how deftly she weaves her characters’ paths together. Absolutely deserving of the Booker prize. I simply LOVE this book. It is an utter joy to read. Anyway, did I mention it was good? Okay, I’ll stop now.
I’ll leave it there for now and do another post with more recommendations once I’ve finished the three I have my nose in at the moment.
Have you read any riveting / life-affirming / mind-blowing / rib-tickling books lately? Or indeed any of the above? Do you have some wonderful gems to share? I’d love to know your thoughts! If there is a book you consider an absolute must-read, I’ll add it to my list.
But just so you know, War and Peace is probably never going to happen. Unless you can persuade me otherwise 🙂
© N. Nazir 2021